The Real Secret is a different kind of self help. We debunk the empty promises of so many books and DVDs and bring you a simple, sensible approach to real life fulfillment. We don't believe you can achieve happiness, or anything else, by simply wishing for, thinking about or visualising it. Our book - and this blog - takes only the best of what really works and turns it into a positive, practical 12-step programme that will enable you to take control of your life and raise your happiness levels.

* Learn Happiness Habits from Positive Psychology * Tame your Fear with Cutting Edge Neuroscience * Control your Time and Money like an Entrepreneur * Build Better Relationships through one Tested Technique

The Real Secret is simple, sensible, scientifically supported self help
by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw



When it comes to intelligence, the whole can indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.  A new study documents the existence of collective intelligence among groups of people who cooperate well, showing that such intelligence extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the groups' individual members, and that the tendency to cooperate effectively is linked to the number of women in a group. So that when it comes to intelligence, the best of all groups is a group that includes a woman. You can read the details here.
It’s a great piece of research and very welcome because we need to be reminded of what we have always known, expressed in the Zulu proverb which heads this post. With the important proviso - that to get anywhere (worth getting), you need women as well as men. I knew that.


Take note of that last para, Andy Gray, Richard Keys and Katie Hopkins.



Stay Happy, Live Longer

The idea that feeling good may be good for your health is not new. Three decades ago, Lazarus et al (1980), suggested that under intensely stressful conditions positive emotions might be protective. Whilst helping to sustain coping efforts, positive emotions also appeared to replenish vital resources that had been depleted by stress.

In a more recent review of the literature, Anthony Ong* of Cornell University looked at how positive emotions can influence health outcomes in later adulthood.

"We all age. It is how we age, however, that determines the quality of our lives," he says. The data he reviewed suggests that positive emotions may be a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and illness. Studies found that people with stronger positive emotions have lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammation related to stress.

Ong became interested in the study of positive emotion when he learned about what researchers call the paradox of ageing: despite the notable loss of physical function throughout the body, a person's emotional capacity seemed to stay consistent with age. Ong speculated that if positive emotions are indeed good for our health then, "one direct, measurable consequence of this should be the extended years of quality living." And that is what he found.

So there you have it - stay happy, live longer.

*Anthony D. Ong (2010). Pathways Linking Positive Emotion and Health in Later Life. Current Directions in Psychological Science, December 2010; vol. 19, 6: pp. 358-362.



Saving Us From Ourselves - The Psychological Immune System

The thing I have always found most surprising about myself is my resilience. I suffer a rejection and a few hours later I’m OK about it. I go to bed upset and wake up the next morning feeling fine. I seem to have this default to equilibrium - I can’t keep feelings of rejection up for very long. I don’t seem able to hold a grudge. I’ve tried. I’ve even written post-it notes to remind me. DON’T FORGET YOU’RE NOT TALKING TO...

I’m not a happy clappy forgiving kind of person (just because I can’t hold a grudge doesn’t mean I can forgive easily). So can’t explain it that way. And no-one who knows me would ever accuse me of positive thinking. As a general rule I take the dim view. Nor do I seem to take it personally.  I could of course be a self serving, don’t give a toss what you think of me type of person. Only I’m not. What people think about me really matters to me. Perhaps that’s the explanation. But it’s not that either. I don’t think that highly of other people, least of all those who reject me. So how come I get over rejection so readily?

The puzzle is over. It’s taken awhile but I now know what lies behind my ability to get up when knocked down - psychologically, that is.

One of the most incredible things about the human mind is its resilience. We have a psychological immune system. When we experience events that have the power to knock us sideways, such as rejection, it kicks in to try and protect us from the worst of it. Interestingly, unlike the physical immune system, we seem not to notice it. There it is working away on our behalf and we didn’t even know.

Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University and colleagues explored this surprising phenomenon in a series of classic social psychology studies (Gilbert et al., 1998). They set up a situation almost all of us would be familiar with: going for a job interview and getting rejected.

First they led participants to believe they were going for a job interview but, beforehand, amongst other misleading questions, they asked them how they would feel if they didn't get it. Of course there was no job to get and they were duly told they didn't get it, then asked, again subtly, how they felt now.

What the researchers were interested in was the difference between how people predicted they'd feel and how they actually did feel. In other words: do people understand they have a psychological immune system and that it will be working to shield them from the downsides of rejection?

There was also another interesting slant to the study: half the participants were told they were being evaluated for the job by one person and the other half that they were being evaluated by three people. This meant that for the half that were evaluated by one person it was easier to rationalise a rejection since when there's only one person deciding it's easier to imagine the decision had more to do with that person's individual preferences. Being rejected by three people, though, feels like a more considered judgement.

Results showed that participants predicted that if they were rejected they would feel about 2 points worse on a scale of 1 to 10 compared with their mood when they started the experiment. Immediately after rejection those for whom the rejection was easy to rationalise only felt 0.4 of a point worse on the scale, not 2 points worse. And after 10 minutes they felt just as happy as when they started the experiment. The immune system had done its work and people's predictions were way off.

The news wasn't quite so good for the participants in the difficult to rationalise condition, but it still wasn't as bad as they expected. Instead of a 2 point drop on the scale of 1 to 10, they experienced a 0.68 drop immediately and 1.25  point drop after 10 minutes, once the rejection had really sunk in. The strain was much greater for the psychological immune system in this condition and it didn't do so well.

All the same, neither group felt as bad as they thought they would. And this pattern is repeated again and again across other studies. When we're knocked sideways by negative events such as rejection, the psychological immune system starts its work, rationalising what has happened and, over time, stopping it hurting as much as we expected.

In the same paper, Gilbert and colleagues report studies on people getting ditched by their partners, told their personalities were not up to scratch and academics failing to get tenure. The pattern repeats: people think it's going to feel bad, but generally it's not as bad as they expect, and people recover quicker than they predict.

The fact that we don't seem to notice our psychological immune system is probably the only reason it works. After all, in order to feel better we have to conveniently forget some important facts, such as how much we wanted the job we didn't get or loved the partner who walked out.

So it looks as if my ability to bounce back from rejection is just the sign of a healthy psychological immune system. I’m taking down the post it notes in case they remind me that I ought really to be feeling rejected and therefore miserable.

Posted by Annabel


Talking About Happiness

I was interviewed today by Helen McDermott at BBC Radio Norfolk about happiness, the new campaigning charity, Action for Happiness and the BBC's Happiness Challenge - and, of course, The Real Secret.

Helen claimed she was a glass-half-empty kind of person, and revealed that she had in fact experienced depression, which just goes to show that you often have to look beneath the surface as she comes across as positive and full of energy - even if coping with her new presenting role and the technical demands of the job meant she called me Lynn several times. I can't blame anyone for failing to pronounce "McCarraher" correctly, though - it sounds like "M'Carra", not the "MacCarragher" it reads as.

Anyway, if you want to hear the interview, and the quick tips for boosting your Happiness Set Point on a daily basis, you can listen here (interview starts at 4.45 minutes in):


How long does it take to form habits?

A paper recently published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Lally et al. (2009) looked at the question of how long it takes to form new habits. Very little scientific research had been done on this question;  the general understanding was that it takes more or less a month, depending on the habit and whether it was designed to replace an old 'bad' habit, such as smoking. It was assumed that an easy habit to form - lets say drinking a glass of water every morning on waking - would, in comparison, take very little time to become automatic. Whilst this all made sense there was, until Lally's research, no real evidence to support it. 
What the researchers found was that on average a new habit became embedded - and therefore automatic - after 66 days, and that at 66 days it had become as much a habit as it was ever going to become. 
Although the average was 66 days, there was marked variation in how long habits took to form, anywhere from 18 days up to 254 days in the different habits examined in this study. As you'd imagine, drinking a daily glass of water became automatic very quickly but doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast required a great deal more dedication. 
What was critical to success was the daily repetition. The researchers also found that missing the odd day did not reduce the chance of forming a habit, and that some people take longer to form habits than do others.
What this study reveals then, is that if we want to develop a relatively simple habit like taking a 5 minute walk in the park, it could take us no more than a month of daily repetitions before the behaviour becomes a habit, but if we want to introduce a habit such as 'not' smoking, or doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast then it will take at least 66 days and possibly more. The crucial key to success was daily repetition.
The question of what kinds of habits we should adopt is another story. Well it's a book actually - The Real Secret.


How to be Popular

Are your friends more popular than you are? There doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason to suppose this is true, but it probably is. We are all more likely to become friends with someone who has a lot of friends than we are to befriend someone with few friends. It’s not that we avoid those with few friends; rather it’s more probable that we will be among a popular person’s friends simply because he or she has a larger number of them.

cent research reported in Scientific American explains why you're probably less popular than your friends - see here for details. That'll explain those imaginary friends.


Do you know your values?

If you don't know what your values are, then you won't know how to behave when tricky decisions need to be made.

A good example of how values inform behaviour is taken from an excerpt from an interview with Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Here he is talking about one of the defining moments in his life.

The biggest defining moment in my life was when I saw Trevor Huddleston (the former president of the anti-apartheid movement), and I was maybe nine or so. My mother at this time was working as a cook in a school for black, blind people. And she was cooking for the women in this institution, and I was standing with my mother on the veranda when a white man went past wearing a long black cassock - he was a priest - and as he strut past, he did something that I found striking. He doffed his hat to my mother. And I, I was just surprised that a white man should do that to a woman, black woman, who was a simple domestic worker.

It's the little things that matter.  Every thing we do makes a difference.
The seemingly small human act of recognition - the doffing of a hat - made a difference. It became a defining moment for a boy who later became a powerful activist in the struggle against apartheid. 
Trevor Huddleston had values. Those values showed him how to act - whatever the circumstances and whatever the prejudices that surrounded him. That's what values do - they guide behaviour. 

We all need to know what our values are if we want to avoid the pitfalls. If you want to uncover yours and make your life a little simpler when it comes to deciding what to do in difficult circumstances then click here for a bit of guidance.


It's A Wonderful Life! Want a Quick Fix to Feeling Happy?

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology* tested the hypothesis that thinking about the absence of a positive event from one's life would improve feelings of happiness more than thinking about the presence of a positive event.

What they found was that respondents who wrote about how they might never have met their romantic partner were more satisfied with their relationship than were those who wrote about how they did meet their partner.

So whenever you want a quick fix then just think how you'd feel if you didn't have the things you do have. See? Simple.

Gratitude - always a powerful happy pill - turned up side down and it still works. For more information and ways to develop the Habit of gratitude, read Step 12, "Smell the Roses" of The Real Secret

* "It's a Wonderful Life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people's affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts" Minkyung Kooet et al (2008) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95(5)

Changing the structure of the NHS will not improve patient care

If you're at all confused about the changes to the NHS being proposed by the government, then read on. 

David Cameron was warned by MPs yesterday that his proposed health service changes would be like ‘tossing a grenade’ under the NHS. The all-party Health Select Committee is uneasy about abolishing the existing Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts and handing responsibility for commissioning to GPs.

I hope he listens.

Having worked in the NHS and in New Zealand’s health sector for over 20 years, rearranging structures does not improve health service efficiency. Importantly it does nothing for the quality of care received by patients. This proposal is damaging because: 

  • The 10 SHAs and 151 PCTs which are accountable to the communities they serve are to be replaced by 500 consortiums of GPs. GP practices are businesses. They are not employees of the NHS. They are contracted to the NHS. This is a subtle but important distinction. Who will measure their accountability? A new independent Board. I am interested to understand how? In my time as Chairman of a PCT, it was notoriously difficult to persuade GP practices to give us accurate information about anything and certainly not their finances. They are private businesses.
  • When structures are rearranged for a monolith like the NHS, it takes additional ‘hump’ funding to disentangle the existing structure and establish the new structure. Not only is there no additional funding to support these changes, funding to the NHS is contracting in real terms rather than expanding.
  • Whatever the success or otherwise of the existing structure, a level of expertise has grown amongst existing management together with positive relationships with their communities. It takes time to achieve community links. All that is to be dismantled and replaced by 500 organisations of GPs, a group of experts who inevitably ‘know what’s best for the patient’. How and when will the community be involved in the commissioning process? The treasure chest of community and patient knowledge sitting in PCTs will either walk out the door or there will be a scramble to grab whatever jobs are going in the management groups that will run the consortiums. It’s a nonsense to say that you can run the NHS without a degree of overall management.

Cameron’s proposals have surprised members of his own party, as well as members of the opposition. In a time of economic recession, this will be a foolhardy move. He is asking people to tighten belts, hunker down for an austerity year. The last thing we need is an unsure NHS run by myopic GPs.

This post was written by Penny Young


Sue Blake's Media Relations Online Book club - The Real Secret is in!

Would you like a FREE copy of The Real Secret? All you have to do to get one is write an intelligent, 300 word review and post it online.

Sue Blake Media specialise in promoting great books and the authors behind them. They represent a wide range of books covering business, entrepreneurship, careers, professional development, health, fitness, lifestyle and mind body spirit and have helped many titles to become best sellers in their field.

They also run the Sue Blake's Media Relations Online Book Club, which gives YOU the opportunity to receive a complimentary book of your choice from their list (they add to this list on a regular basis, so keep watching) in exchange for your independent 300 word review of the title.

The Real Secret is the latest title to be added to the book club, which we're delighted about. All you need to do is contact them, receive your free copy and post your review on the SBMR Online Book Club within 4 weeks of receiving the book. Of course, Amazon reviews are the holy grail of reviews and we would be very pleased if you could post a review there too.
If you would like to review The Real Secret, or any of their other titles, then please contact or have a look at the website

They're also on Twitter. Follow them for all the latest Book Club news, discussions and conversation and The Sue Blake Media Online Book Club is also within

How Much Do You Understand Yourself?

Psychologists have long known about the effect that our immediate surroundings can have on our mood. Norbert Schwarz showed how dull weather could make your whole life look bad. On a sunny day it just looks so much better. What he also showed was that once you become aware of the effect it vanishes!
Being aware of the surrounding influences on one's mood then, is important because the effect can be really strong. And it's not just the weather that can affect how you feel - feeling hungry because you skipped breakfast, or didn't have time to have lunch, can make you feel downright irritable as well as mournful. Even colour can have a noticeable affect on mood, altering it from upbeat to downbeat in a fairly short time.
There is a small problem however - whilst Professor Schwarz did show that being aware of the effect would diminish it's influence on our mood - we just seem to keep forgetting . Instead we tend to dismiss this influence and blame our moods either on ourselves or on others.

So when you're feeling down, look around you and think of all the influences that may be affecting your mood. Did you skip breakfast? What's the weather doing? Just can't stand that wallpaper!
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Why Are Some People Happy?

Have you ever wondered why people who are already contented and confident seem to get all the best breaks, have the most satisfying relationships, seem to enjoy more fun and exciting lives? It seems so unfair when they’re not necessarily better at their jobs, nicer people or more deserving than you. Yet they get what they want out of life, achieve their goals and feel at ease with themselves in a way that often manages to escape you.
We often make the mistake of thinking that people are happy because they've achieved their goals, have more money or a loving partner, but the likelihood is that they’re not happy and fulfilled because they have all those things. Long term research has shown that it’s entirely the other way round: happy people have better relationships, more successful careers, earn more money, maintain closer links with friends and family and savour life more. So the best way to join the ranks of the successful and satisfied is simply to get happy.
Some people are born with a higher happiness "set point" than others, but we can all improve on the hand we were born with and the cards life has dealt us so far. Some of us have to deal with more knock backs and difficulties than others, but these are not an obstacle to leading a happy life – indeed, they can actually help us achieve it. So if you are feeling a little defeated at the moment, take heart; we’re here to help.
You can start the process by simply choosing to be happier. Once you've made that decision, you need to get into the habit of acting out and believing in your own improved happiness.
One simple way is just to smile more - yes, really!
Just as happiness leads to success rather than vice versa, smiling can be used to create pleasure and not just express it. The physical act of smiling stimulates the pleasure centres in your brain, increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins and reduces the level of stress hormones – so get more pleasure out of life by smiling more often. The act of smiling also slightly cools the face and brain, which is associated with positive mood, while frowning warms them and activates changes that can make you feel sad and grumpy. Smile when you’re happy, but smile especially, perhaps, when you’re feeling down.

For more Habits of Happiness, which really will make you feel more positive and satisfied, read the first chapter of The Real Secret where we'll show you how!


Bags of Money

January 2011 is considered by many to be auspicious. This is because in this January there are 5 Mondays, 5 Saturdays,and 5 Sundays. This only happens every 823 years. In France it's called 'sacs d'argent' because apparently it's the month when bags of money can be earned!

Just thought you'd want to know that.

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